When looking through French history during the Versailles Period, there’s something attracts me a lot: it seems that “mistress” plays an important role throughout the history. It’s an interesting phenomenon as the word “mistress” tends to be related with “secret” in many cultures. While in French culture, there’s even a word “Maîtresse-en-titre” which means “official mistress” 1. It seems that you cannot speak about a king without mentioning his wife, his mistress, his “private” affairs with all kinds of women… This phenomenon attracts me to go into more about mistresses. Among all the mistresses during the Versailles Period, Madame de Pompadour is quite special, not only because she was able to keep Louis XV’s heart for such a long time as a commoner, but also because of her influence on art, architecture, culture, politics… This kind of influence can still be found in remains in modern France, mainly in form of painting and decoration of Rococo style. There were so many mistresses in French history, but this one, Madame de Pompadour was quite a woman of influence. The following part of this essay will be concentrating on Madame de Pompadour’s life in court and what she has influenced a lot-Rococo style, through which, I believe, we could understand more about French culture, especially the part related to Louis XV period.
To keep the heart of the king Louis XV was by no means an easy task. Madame de Pompadour succeeded. The most important way Madame de Pompadour used to captivate the King was art. She was an important patroness of art at that time. She greatly improved “Rococo” style, which is believed to be the culmination of Baroque. However, Rococo is more than this. Unlike Baroque, Rococo is not concerned about religious matters, it is an eminent aristocratic art, an art for the upper middle class fond of a fashionable style, intimate and delicate. The society loves freedom, good taste and pleasure. In speaking of decoration, the Rococo style is defined by S- and C-curves and asymmetry. Wall and ceiling decoration in the room often includes colorful, whimsical designs and mirrors plays with the perception of positive and negative spaces. Furniture was heavily gilded, and often incorporated exotic elements, like veneers of Japanese lacquer or Chinoiserie motifs.2 These features of Rococo style decoration is widely used in the rooms of Madame de Pompadour (shown in picture 1), the mood of which was light and pretty and most importantly of all, private. Picture 13 Also, the paintings of Rococo style also flourished during Madame de Pompadour’s stay at court. Madame Pompadour became a lot of patron of painters. For example,“the Grace Painter” François Boucher was favored by Madame de Pompadour to go into the court. Picture 2 shows one of the paintings of François Boucher, The “Setting of the Sun”. The painting shows Apollo welcomed by the nymph Tethys at the end of the day. Madame de Pompadour was represented by the nymph, because she too used to welcome king Luis XV at nights after a day of hard work. The painting used pink to indicate the sense of flesh and happiness, which was quite common in paintings of Rococo style.
Picture 2 4
From personal point of view, Rococo style is something derived from hedonism of the court. King XV’s devotion to mistresses and Madame de Pompadour’s witty towards art together forms the hedonism in art, which reflects in Rococo style. Rococo style plays an important part of role in French art history as it started in court of France and influenced countries around France such as the Britain. Although Rococo was criticized later by Diderot as “the absence of truth”, it still worths studying even in pure beauty way.
In comparison with art in court of China, Rococo style is kind of “out of rule”. It’s a little bit hard to compare Rococo style to what people in court liked in China because Chinese court almost never let woman related pleasure go into the main stream of court art. Art in Chinese court often represents the power of the king and his good will and virtue, which almost go to the converse of woman related pleasure. Of course there’s some art came from the harem of the court, but it’s not that influential as others. This kind of big difference is also one of the most important reasons that interested me to look into how Madame de Pompadour, a mistress, influenced the movement of art.
Looking back into Madame de Pompadour’s life in court and Rococo style, which she has influenced a lot, it’s almost a legend for a woman who was not born in aristocratic families. It is for sure that Madame de Pompadour is a witty, talented woman, while it must be admitted that her legend couldn’t become true without all the historical background. It is said that the 18th Century marked an era of new and liberating virtues: intellectual curiosity, patronage of the arts, and liberation from religious dogma. 5 Louis XIV’s strong power in the court gave Louis XV a great fortune, which enabled him to seek the pleasure to his will. Madame de Pompadour went into Louis XV’s life at that time with her smart ideas in catching the king’s heart, which gave her the power to use her talent, and with her smart ideas in art, which let Rococo became popular for a time.